Hannibal Rising Peter Webber

Let’s face it: Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter has been a cash cow for both the literary and film genres. However, his chilling tales were disturbing enough to have fans constantly looking over their shoulders late at night. While most moviegoers realise that it was Anthony Hopkins’s inimitable portrayal that made the films what they are, Hannibal Rising confirms our suspicions that without the Welshman’s hypnotic stare and glib poise this brilliant serial killer is hardly himself. That isn’t to take away from Brian Cox’s worthy performance of the sociopath in Manhunter; instead it’s to drive home the fact that Hannibal Rising is a poorly imagined entry that severely damages what was a thoroughly enjoyable series of thrillers.

Detailing Hannibal’s origin, the plot begins in Lithuania during WWII when he’s about seven years old. After his family is wiped out, he and his younger sister, Mischa, are left to fend for themselves against a group of gnarly and hungry Russian soldiers. Well, they decide to eat poor little Mischa, sparing Hannibal and setting up the inevitable duty of seeking revenge in his later years. After years of suffering in an orphanage, a teenage Hannibal finds sanctuary in France with the widow of his uncle, Lady Murasaki Shikibu (Gong Li), who trains him to become a warrior and helps him recover the repressed memories of his horrific childhood. From there, Hannibal sets out to fulfil his oath to taste the blood of his sister’s killers in the most gruesome and animalistic ways.

Despite establishing a back-story for cinema’s most endearing psycho killer, Hannibal Rising is wrong from beginning to end. Never does this feel like the man we’ve come to know from Manhunter/Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. Actor Gaspard Ulliel bears no resemblance — physically or psychologically — to Hopkins’s Hannibal. He delivers his lines out of desperation and without any of the diabolical wit that made Lecter so frightening. And his stare is not only meek it’s also laughable.

However, what’s truly mind-blowing about this film’s utter failure is the fact that it’s the first screenplay to be adapted by Harris himself. The script is unable to present one compelling character (even Li can’t save her damaged mistress) or establish a convincing argument for Lecter’s mania (yes, even his sister’s unfathomable demise somehow reaches a level of amusement).

The only redeeming quality Hannibal Rising has is that it never feels like a blood relative to the other films. Instead, it’s more like that unwelcome stepbrother that never fit in and deserved to go straight to DVD.

(Alliance Atlantis)